Asked afterwards whether this was one of the most painful defeats of his career, Murray demurred, pointing out that a first-round match has relatively little hanging on it by comparison with some of the near-misses he has experienced in grand-slam finals. It was his performance he was more worried about.
Murray ascribed his uncertain start to a late switch in opponent, but admitted that there was no explanation for his ongoing struggle to hit the ball with any accuracy.
He had expected to be playing American right-hander Jenson Brooksby, until Brooksby pulled out with just a couple of hours’ notice. The left-handed Koepfer was a “lucky loser” who had been defeated in the qualifying tournament, only to receive an unexpected reprieve.
“I don’t think I deserved to win,” said Murray. “Obviously I had a ton of opportunities at the end, but the way that I was playing tonight was not good enough. I found out [about the switch in opponent] post-practice, so that potentially could explain the slow start. But then, once I was into the match, I just made mistake after mistake.”
“It felt like at times I was missing a ton of first serves in a row,” he added. “Didn’t hit my second serve well either, which the last couple of weeks has been better. So there were a number of things that I didn’t do well enough tonight, and the reasons for that, I’m not sure.”
Earlier, the wintry mood in Bercy – the Parisian suburb that hosts this last big tournament of the regular season – had drawn contrasting performances from Britain’s two leading men. While Dan Evans stormed off the court after a bad-tempered defeat, the more level-headed Cameron Norrie enjoyed the smoothest of journeys into the second round.
Evans had looked well set against the big-serving Alexander Bublik, dominating the early exchanges against a man who plays a buccaneering yet inconsistent brand of tennis. He took the opening set 6-2, and had an early chance to break in the second set as well.
But Bublik thundered down a huge second serve and then began to spray aces in all directions: 24 of them in all. Meanwhile Evans became distracted by a hostile fan in the crowd, raging away at them during the changeovers. He never quite regained his composure and was eventually bundled out by a 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 scoreline.
In the first match of a long day for British tennis fans, Norrie had been serenity itself as he disposed of Federico Delbonis in just 73 minutes. This 6-2, 6-1 victory was another useful staging post in the quest to qualify for the ATP Finals in Turin in a fortnight’s time.
Norrie is still an outside bet to finish among the leading eight men of 2021, but he told reporters: “It’s cool to have this added pressure of playing for an extra event at the end of the year.”